Sunday, 23 September 2012

Gone in Sixty Seconds

The R's travelled to wet and windy White Hart Lane for the second of their three consecutive London Derby's with the game having been switched to a Sunday due to Spurs Europa Cup fixture the previous Thursday. (after originally being selected for live ESPN coverage on the Saturday.)

The R's fans, who were fortunate enough to attend, were in great voice, even after the pitiful allocation we were give by the hosts. Why do we give them a larger allocation for the return fixture at Loftus Road when White Hart Lane has twice our capacity, especially when we could easily sell the tickets to R's fans. This is something that needs to be addressed. Despite this, the R's fans and the team accounted for themselves magnificently and left North London wondering how instead of coming away with three points, we left with none.

QPR's recent trend of improving with every game proved true as they produced their best performance of the season. This new QPR side played Spurs off the park for the best part of 89 minutes, having dominated the first half and controling the midfield as well as having most of the possession for the match.
Due to the number of injured QPR personnel, Hughes had to mix things up in the side and opted for a 4 4 1 1 formation that completely out foxed Spurs in a first half that saw Gareth Bale playing at left back and not featuring in the game for the first 45 minutes. In fact it was QPR that were out of the blocks first, easily dictating the early exchanges, forcing a number corners with Clint Hill coming very close to putting the R's into an early lead. The depth of the QPR squad was again called upon with Bosingwa having to go off in the opening few minutes with a pulled hamstring as the R's bad luck with injury's continued. Dyer came on at right back and Onuoha slipped over to left back as he did against Chelsea. Dyer had a good game and looked both comfortable and useful going forward occasionally reminding us that he was once an England international. Continued QPR pressure finally got its reward after another R's corner was not dealt with adequately and Faurlin's disguised pass was gratefully dispatched beyond the oncoming Friedle by Zamora.

The midfield quartet of Park, Granero, Faurlin and SWP again worked tirelessly and continued their recent diligence in ball retention and pressed higher up the pitch making it difficult for Spurs to get out of their half for the first 45 minutes, Hughes and his staff again getting their game plan right. Having said that, although they played well, Faurlin and Granero did not look at their sharpest, with the unfortunate Faurlin scoring an own goal and Granero guilty of being caught in possession for Spurs breakaway second goal. However, their efforts today, like most days, were invaluable and we know there is better to come from theses two. Much as I like SWP, I think he's playing at  his limit now, and though better than last season, is just not good enough. I don't think his work rate is a justified reason to keep someone else out of the starting eleven. There is still no end product with him, no cross, no killer pass and a lot of QPR attacking movement seems to end when he receives the ball, more often than not with him losing possession and ending up on the ground. Now is an ideal opportunity for someone to up their work rate and take his place. (Adel Taarabt take note)

After a convincing  first 45 minutes QPR went in one nil up, when it could have been two or three and with Cesar not having to make a save. Spurs had to change things for the second half and opted to match QPR's 4 4 1 1 formation with Dempsey playing behind Defoe and Bale moving up wide on the left. This brought about a Spurs improvement and Cesar was finally called upon and proved to be magnificent, but QPR remained comfortable. Then we had sixty seconds of madness, switching off, call it what you want, but sixty crazy seconds that saw QPR turn a one goal lead into a one goal deficit. Following a Spurs corner that QPR had easily been dealing with, the ball was harmlessly floated into the six yard box. Faurlin, instead of heading the ball out, inexplicably turned his back on the ball, which then hit him on the back and into the QPR goal. From the resulting kickoff QPR immediately advanced deep into the Spurs area but Granero was uncharacteristically dispossessed and Bale went on one of his destructive runs that ended with a shot that Cesar pushed onto the bar only for the fortunate Defoe to tap into an open goal. Two one down and a potential three points gone in sixty seconds.

Football can be cruel, its been cruel to us R's fans quite a few times, but again there are positives to take from this game. Having gone behind, a lot of QPR sides would have capitulated a-la Swansea home, Fulham away. Chelsea away, I could go on. But not this side. To their credit they continued to plug away and Spurs were never comfortable. When was the last time you saw a QPR side play away from home in the Premier League with such adventure, creativeness and nerve. When was the last time you saw a QPR side dare to believe they can be and are better than mediocre. This team believe they can WIN, and when they do, they will expect to win.

We deserved something out of the game today, we didn't get it, but that's what we're working on and we'll learn from it. I said before we could end up not picking up many points in September, but we will from then on. Fate has conspired to hamper the squad with injuries, but we now have a squad good enough to cope. Clint Hill, in for Ferdinand, was magnificent. Dyer too showed that he can do a job for QPR as part of our squad. I was proud of the way QPR played today, Spurs know we're no mugs and Spurs know we know they were fortunate to come away with three points.

This is a transitional season for QPR, things don't look good now looking at the league table, but things are so much better than they seem. In over forty years following the R's I've rarely seen a squad with the attitude and expectation that we have now. I don't think they're here for the money. They want to do something.The whole attitude of the Club from Tony Fernadez down will not accept the ineptitude we have settled for, for most of our history. They genuinely want to move this club on to somewhere that we have never been before and I think that attitude is infectious.

The future is bright for QPR. I say again this is the start of something new for QPR, the winning will start soon, hopefully against West Ham next Monday.  Then the next away game is WBA, we are good enough to win that. They have only allocated 1400 tickets to us, so if you could not go to Spurs or get an Arsenal ticket why not go to the Hawthorns to watch QPR try and turn that belief into three points. Be there and witness another turning point in the QPR revolution.

So, only 2 points but  I'm still feeling good, lets look at the table in six weeks time, things will start to look much better.

Blog to you soon

The Bush Ranger

Sunday, 16 September 2012

No Fear

The QPR revolution continued its evolution with an entertaining goalless draw against our hated neighbours from SW6, Chelsea.

Ferdinand snubs Terry
First of all the handshake debacle. Or as it turned out no handshakes. Rightly so, with the world media focused on the pre match handshake farce, Anton Ferdinand rejected the hand of the despicable John Terry and Ashley Cole. Ji Sung Park followed, commendably, with a double snub of Terry by also refusing to shake his hand on the coin toss too. Whether it was out of support for the Ferdinand brothers or maybe representative of the the rest of the QPR team, I believe the snubbing was justified. However, before I draw a line under the handshake issue, the situation could have been avoided if the complete and utter farce of meaningless, insincere handshaking did not form part of the pre match ritual. In reality this is another Premier League cash cow that serves the purpose of international exposure for the league's sponsor in front of a world wide television audience. Don't expect this pointless exercise to be abolished any time soon.

So on to the match. The European Champions were greeted with an unsurprisingly hostile reception from the QPR faithful, with Messrs Terry and Cole subject to a relentless afternoon of unflattering rhetoric from the R's fans and just as last season, everyone associated with Chelsea couldn't get away from Loftus Road quick enough. I don't think they enjoyed themselves in W12 today.

The international break, normally an unsettling element to a season, turned out to be a blessing as Mark Hughes and his staff had an extra week to work with his transfer window acquisitions. Hughes  didn't waste this time and got the game plan and team selection spot on for this fixture, opting to play 4 4 2 again and keeping AJ and Zamora together up front.

It became immediately clear from the opening moments, that this was a new, better, well organised side. A side with belief working collectively as a unit. Gone were the frightened rabbits that we saw for the first 35 minutes at the Etihad two weeks before. The back four lead by the magnificent Ryan Nelson pushed further up the pitch as the industrious midfield of SWP, Faurlin, Granero and Park hustled their Chelsea counter parts making it increasingly difficult for them to settle and in fact making the Chelsea back four play deep for much of the first half. The midfield were a revelation, tenaciously winning possession, being patient and keeping the ball, something we have not done consistently since our return to premiership football.

Chelsea as you would expect were dangerous at times but the R's coped and actually played with no fear in a confident and diligent manner and were always comfortable taking the ball forward and pushing Chelsea back. Playing this way took masses of pressure off the back four, which has been an ongoing problem and kept the vociferous and fervent R's supporters racking up the decibels at Loftus Road.

Chelsea had a couple of penalty appeals turned down. Terry and Nelson in the kind of tussle you see dozens of times every game and Hazard looking for a spot kick as SWP lunged in, none of which convinced Referee Mariner. Andy Johnson was more than a handful for Chelsea as we saw why he was once held with such high regard before unfortunately suffering an injury that saw him replaced by an eager and obliging Mackie. This was after Fabio had also picked up a knock that saw him replaced by Onuoha with excellent Bosingwa switching to the right. The enforced changes highlighted strength of the QPR squad as the changes didn't upset the game plan too much and we still had the likes of Taarabt, Hoilett, Cisse, Dyer and Green to choose from.

Julio Cesar had an excellent debut proving himself early on with a very good save from Hazard plus two or three other important saves during the course of the game. With a commanding presence he seemed to instill confidence in to a back four that looked more comfortable playing in front of him and he looks like he is going to be a solid keeper for QPR.  The R's continued to push forward with Park notably missing our best chance heading a great cross from Granero into Cech's hands and Zamora taking to long to finish after beating Cech to a misplaced back pass. This left Hazard to miss one last chance for Chelsea blasting high over the bar from eight yards.

In summary this was a very very good QPR performance. The R's actually edged the possession stats against the European Champions and Chelsea were never able to completely settle and never got forward in numbers as they like to do, mostly because they had to do most of the work further back up the pitch as our four man midfield won that battle today. QPR's ball retention, distribution and the work rate was arguably the best its been since promotion and more in keeping with our ambitions. Today, finally, QPR comfortably looked like and played like a good premiership side.(against quality opposition) Had it not been for the two forced substitutions in the first half I think Hughes would have utilised some of our options on the bench for the last 15 minutes and we could have got all the points. It is clear that we have turned a corner and this side is going to get better and better. So will the results. The midfield with Granero and Faurlin are quality, if the midfield functions, the defence will sort it self out, particularly with the influence of Nelson. Playing higher up the pitch at a higher tempo suits us and I like watching it.

True to form, QPR don't always get the credit they deserve and this was blatantly obvious on Match of the Days pitiful misrepresentation of the game. Needless to say it was not a fair reflection of the way in which QPR played. Still the more this goes on the longer the odds will be when backing QPR, because this QPR side are going to win lots of games this season. (Back QPR to win at Spurs on an Asian Handicap at +1 to +1.5)

We haven't got it right yet and there is still lots to do but there has been significant progress. This team has belief and is now playing with no fear and have overcome a massive psychological barrier. You can feel the excitement the players have, being part of  the QPR revolution. This is QPR though, so the ride will be bumpy. Buckle your seat belts, we're going for a ride and its going to be a good one.

Blog to you soon.

The Bush Ranger

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Slowly slowly catchy monkey

The R's begun a difficult run of September fixtures with a visit to champions Manchester City which ended, unsurprisingly, in defeat but in reality showed signs of what we can look forward to as R's fans as the season progresses.

As I took my seat at the Etihad, in the soulless concrete bowl that typifies the model many new stadium designers have adopted, I could not help but think how things used to be before the commercial revolution of the Premier League and legislation enforcing football fans to sit when watching our national game. Gone are the days when you could meet your mates in the pub before the game and bring even more mates with you on the spur of the moment to watch a game. Gone are the days when you could all watch the game together in the ground without prior precision planning. As a result real football fans find themselves isolated and separated from each other which undoubtedly leads to the sterile muted atmosphere that we often get in football stadia nowadays. City proved to be no different, even though the facilities and the views are great, the stadium did not buzz as it should as the home of the champions. A consequence of the tag alongs and born again City fans, but a stark contrast to the corresponding fixture 16 weeks earlier.

The R's began the game with the returning Faurlin, the only player in the starting eleven from our championship winning season. Estaban Granero made his debut and Johnson was preferred in attack to partner Zamora, as Hughes surprisingly elected to line up 4 4 2, rare for an away game.

QPR soon found themselves under pressure and were run ragged for the first 35 minutes, with City taking the lead after just 16 minutes. I don't know whether its Hughes insistence on setting us up so deep, but we keep inviting the opposition on to us and subsequently look very uncomfortable and almost scared whilst under relentless pressure for long periods. The inevitable result is lack of confidence and it was not really until the 35 minute that the R's settled and looked more comfortable when moving forward, although City always looked dangerous.

 City began the second half strongly and could easily have gone two up. But QPR, with a new found confidence and the beginnings of self belief started to have more time in the City half and got their reward with an equaliser, Zamora with his second consecutive away goal. This sent the 1600-ish QPR support into delirium, the vast majority of which were located in the upper tier of the away end out of view of the TV cameras, prompting unjustified ridicule on Twitter about our away support. The R's joy was short lived as City regained the lead 2 minutes later, but the R's were not crestfallen and again capitulation was avoided, even though City nicked a third goal in injury time. Up until then we all had the feeling we could nick something out of this game. The supporters felt it and the players felt it.

Despite the result, there were enough encouraging signs in the second half to know QPR will be OK this season. It will take time, but it will come. Things will get better. Granero was excellent as was Faulin on this return to league action. Fabio showed an improvement, Bosingwa looked promising and Nelson proved he can do a good job for QPR this season. Zamora and AJ put in a good shift and Park's second half performance was arguably his best for the R's to date.

Yes it was disappointing to lose and we are in the bottom three again and maybe will will not get many points in September, but I and many fellow R's left the Etihad feeling strangely confident about the future. We learnt something today and we saw the beginning of something today. There is no doubt this is a good squad of players. In time the management and the players will knit together and by the time City come to Loftus Road in January QPR will be a much tougher proposition. We can all feel it, we can all see it, but until then we must all remember.....Slowly slowly catchy monkey.

Onwards and upwards. Come on you R's

Blog to you soon

The Bush Ranger.